US not prepared for ‘mega-disaster’: official

© AFP/File Mandel Ngan


WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States is not as prepared as it should be for a disaster on the scale of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, a former top emergency response official said Thursday.

“If you ask me if we as a nation are better prepared than we were 40 years ago, five years ago, the answer is yes.

“But if you ask me are we as prepared as we can or should be, the answer to that is, no, we’re not,” retired Department of Homeland Security inspector general Richard Skinner told a Senate hearing.

Lessons learned from disasters like Hurricane Andrew, which killed 26 people in 1992, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the September 11, 2001 attacks should have left the United States “much better prepared than we are today,” said Skinner.

“The tragic events that are unfolding today in Japan are a stark reminder of how important catastrophic preparedness is. It can and will happen here — it’s just a matter of when,” he told the hearing.

“Nevertheless, I remain concerned about FEMA’s capability and resolve to sustain an effective catastrophic preparedness strategy and program,” he said.

FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, came under fire for its ineffectual response to Hurricane Katrina, which claimed some 1,200 lives in the US Gulf states and caused an estimated $75 billion in damage.

The agency was revamped after Katrina, but Skinner, who authored a recent report on FEMA, said the agency was still mired in the same inefficiencies that were found by auditors 20 years ago, and was dragging its heels to implement changes.

Republican Senator Susan Collins said US Geological Survey data show there is a 94 percent probability of a powerful earthquake of magnitude seven or more hitting California in the next 30 years.

“It’s also inevitable that there will be hurricanes, floods and tornadoes, and a terrorist attack using a weapon of mass destruction in a large city would strain our capability,” she said, questioning whether United States can “handle a mega-disaster.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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